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Walking the walk in West Clare

A view of the old lighthouse on a Long Way Round Walking tour at Kilcredaun near Carrigaholt. Photograph by John KellyWHILE researching the Kilcredaun walk for her Carrigaholt-based walking company, The Long Way Round, Laura Foley felt impelled to immediately share any snippet of new information she had gleaned.

 

The walk, some of which will feature in next weekend’s inaugural Loop Head Walking Festival, takes in two ruined churches, Kilcredaun Lighthouse, an intact battery castle built in 1814, a tunnel from the castle to the estuary, scenic yet forgotten graveyards and an eerie drowned bog (Portach Báite).

“I got addicted to the history of the Kilcredaun walk. For about six months I talked about nothing else. I was driving people crazy,” Laura laughs.

The tunnel, which leads from the imposing Battery Castle to the water’s edge, was built with repelling a French invasion in mind.

“It was an escape tunnel. It’s on the opposite side of Kilcredaun Point so it was hidden from invading forces. They could send one person down the tunnel and onto a boat. The boat could then reach Doonaha before they were attacked,” Laura explains. A battery castle was also constructed in Doonaha, with several more dotted along the coast.

The drowned bog is home to butts of 7,000-year-old trees, although water laps over what was once a huge forest. Clear views of Rehy Head are also visible from the drowned bog, which is located at the rear of Kilcredaun Lighthouse.

Laura Foley visiting the Okeanos shipwreck, Napoleonic battery and its exit tunnel at Kilcredaun. Photograph by John Kelly“Very few people know that Portach Báite is there. It’s a beautiful landscape and it’s very unusual. It’s almost lunar,” is how Laura describes the picturesque yet bizarrely located remnants of a monstrous forest, which she says is referred to in The Annals of The Four Masters. A huge wave is reputed to have destroyed the forest, nearby Kilsfiffin Island and tracts of the West Clare coastline.

Kilcredaun is located north of Carrigaholt village and juts into the mouth of the Shannon Estuary, while the ruins of the Okeanos, which ran aground off Kilcredaun Point in 1847, are still visible at low tide.

“There is so much history in that area. I didn’t want to do it a disservice and not know something about it. I started researching it by myself first. Stephen Rowan [the former lighthouse keeper] was very helpful, as was McDara Tobín [of Carrigaholt Irish College].

“Then I joined a history group in Kilkee. John Williams, Paddy Collins and Martin Haugh were involved in it. They know a lot about the area and they helped me with the local history part of it. The one thing that I could control was how much I knew about it. If there was a question that I could come up with, I wanted to have an answer,” Laura says.

Some of her early walks attracted just one paying customer. However, Laura got on with it and has since had some of those lone walkers back, along with their family and friends.

“If there was one person there, I’d take them on the walk. Lots of people thought I was nuts for doing it but in the end it worked out. People enjoyed it, they’d tell friends and family and word got out. I think that’s the best way to market it. I ultimately want to be able to bring people on walking holidays. I definitely think there’s an opportunity for walking holidays in West Clare,” she believes.

Married with two children under six, Laura felt setting up her own business was the only viable route to securing a job in West Clare that was conducive to family life.

“I had this overwhelming desire to start a business. There was a lot of talk about what was happening with tourism in Loop Head. I knew that walking was becoming the top activity of people who visit Ireland. Kilcredaun was a walk that I was interested in doing anyway. I think I just knew that I had to do something. I knew that a job somewhere else was just not going to happen,” she reasons.

The Kilcredaun walk cuts across farmland, which Laura has permission to access and also incorporates O’Curry’s Irish college, which was once a coastguard station. The walk will be one of seven this weekend, with further walks in Kilkee and Loop Head.

The maiden festival walk will be a Victorian walk around Kilkee from 6pm on Friday evening, departing from the bandstand on the seafront. Some of the additional Kilkee events will include a dawn cliff walk from 6am on Saturday and a George’s Head walk, while a walking tour of Kilbaha will also take place on Saturday. The latter, which will be led by Laura Foley, will start at The Church of the Little Ark and will incorporate the Bridges of Ross, St Cuan’s Well and the graves of The Yellow Men.

The Loop Head Walking Festival will run from Friday to Sunday and the organising committee comprises Trea Heapes, Martina Haugh, Cillian Murphy and Laura Foley. For more information on the festival see www.thelongwayround.ie or www.loophead.ie.

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